CityLife Arts

Tawanda Takura transforming the work of reclaimers into powerful visual language commenting on politics and religion

At this group exhibition entitled MEETING PLACES which is on at Oxford Parks, 199 Oxford Rd, visitors will be able to immerse themselves in Tawanda Takura’s deeply disturbing body of sculpture in which the artist re-assembles old shoes which carry the traces and biographies of their owners.

By Edward Tsumele

You have seen them everywhere picking up the discarded materials that we throw away after use. These materials of course have to be thrown away once used, but in a responsible manner as they end up polluting not only our neighbourhoods, but the oceans as well when it comes to plastic materials, causing immense damage to the environment.

But luckily here comes the reclaimers, who not only have assisted in establishing a thriving recycling industry worth billions of Rands, but are assisting in cleaning our environment. Yes the billions Rands generated by the industry annually do not always end up in the pockets of the men and women that we see every day pushing trolleys full of these discarded materials, that range from plastics, aluminium, copper and almost everything else that can be reclaimed and  given a new lease on life and brought back into our lives as something useful.

The issue of whether these reclaimers that have so much become part of our urban feature to the extent that not seeing one in the streets, especially in Johannesburg and other urban areas, becomes a suspicious anomaly on any given day is an issue for debate for another day. What is not debatable though is the essential role the reclaimers play in society.

Sometimes the reclaimers irritate us as we have to share the streets and roads with them, having to negotiate our way carefully as we drive past them all the time to avoid disaster. But stop for one moment and imagine a world without these reclaimers

Yes they add colour to our lives by just encountering them and see how sometimes they put up a stunning show on our roads, racing their trolleys at high speed, sometimes up to 50 kilometres an hour, leaving motorists both amazed and amused, at how they try to outrace cars. And so reclaimers certainly bring some much comic relief to our world, especially a world that is under the stress of a global Pandemic, by just observing them pull their stunts on the streets as they go about doing their daily chores. They are the invisibles of our daily lives, and yet at the very same time very visible as we interact with them without seeing them, let alone hearing them.

But they save municipalities and indirectly property owners billions of Rands with regards to the development of new landfills, and therefore reclaimers deserve much better than they are getting from the major recycling merchants and barons that get billions of Rands from an industry whose growth is clearly fuelled to a big extent by the work of this hard working and yet not formally recognised workforce within the economy.

Maybe it is time that municipalities must find a way of compensating these informal workers by directing some of the millions they save as a result of the efforts of these reclaimers, back into pockets of the very same people, reclaimers.

However not all is lost though as now some people have started to work with these reclaimers, ranging from Non Governmental Organisations, academics, to creatives, and in a way giving the thankless job of reclaimers some level of dignity respectability and value.

One such creative working with the reclaimers of Johannesburg is Zimbabwean visual artist Tawanda Takura, who is on a three month residency in Johannesburg with Guns &Rain in collaboration with the world renowned art studios Bag Factory, which since its inception, has excelled in especially championing art exchange programmes between international artists who work alongside local artists to exchange ideas and sharpen their skills.  The collaboration between Guns&Rain and Bag Factory is in as far as Takura will be part of a group exhibition titled MEETING PLACES opening on Saturday April 10 until, running till May 10, 2021 at Oxford Parks, 199 Oxford Road, Dunkeld.

 Guns &Rain is a gallery that focuses on contemporary art from southern Africa.  For this residency Guns& Rain has partnered with the African Reclaimers Organisation, an NGO which works with reclaimers in Johannesburg, from whom Takura is sourcing his material that he works on, turning them into exquisite sculptural works that are as evocative as they are highly political .

During this residency, Takura is working with reclaimers in Johannesburg to create a body of work, that not only helps to upscale the work of reclaimers, but makes us as a society to ask ourselves hard questions about what we consider to be discarded materials and the history hidden and carried in those discarded materials. These materials have stories contained in them, telling us a lot not only about the people that once used such material and disposed them at the end, but also a collective story of an increasingly consumerist world that keeps on collecting and collecting, consuming at a large scale.  

However it is the hard hitting socio-political angle in this exhibition that takes centre stage as the artist enters the realm of politics and religion in a hard hitting tone that does not compromise, especially when it comes to the economy, politics and the emergence of charismatic churches that seem to preach more about money than salvation these days.

Takura has given life to these materials through the stories his body of work on this residency tells. Some of the stories are disturbing and quite evocative.

In this deeply disturbing body of sculpture,Takura born in1989, who trained as a shoemaker, takes apart and expertly re-assembles old shoes which carry the traces and biographies of their owners. These new figurations carry the subtle but persistent smell of rubber and leather. Hollow, hybrid, tortured and distorted, sometimes carnivalesque, Takura’s work comments on socio-political injustice, and takes clear aim at the extractive practices of charismatic churches.

The artist describes how, “at times, in earlier years, I was considered a madman, going around collecting old shoes…people would see a heap of shoes in my house”. He goes on to describe how his work has opened up conversations and dialogue with neighbours and others in his community:

“People really want to say things but they don’t know how to say it. I get to speak through my work and address the things that they are facing and going through [in daily life].”

A laughing mermaid-devil with a scaly body of many tongues, a head of molten plastic, high-heels for a horned crown and swimming flipper for her tail. A macabre decapitated spirit-head talks to his body: split football boots trace the firmness of the human spine and back; shoulders rise up from the undersides of well-worn ballet slippers.

Mai Mfundisi, the ‘lady pastor’, flourishes under her lurid fascinator, her face adorned with condom packets. A shocking pair of screaming yet mute heads seem to comment on economic desperation and the erosion of basic dignities. Look closely: one of the mouths bears the New Testament’s Book of Timothy, with some of the miniscule verses underlined: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” The lips of its nearby anguished twin are smeared with the defunct Zimbabwe dollar, millions of them – a reference to 15 years of economic turmoil and increasing deprivation.

Elsewhere, no irony is lost with the same dollars being used to line the anus of a feline creature that mutates into an assaulted, cowering human torso, its head mummified with bank notes. Around its neck: the priest’s collar. If Takura’s critique of the abuses of state and church is an expression of suffering and anger, his continuous binding together of materials is also an attempt to stitch back together what is torn asunder.

Takura has exhibited at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, several times at the Joburg Art Fair (2015, 2016, 2018) and Cape Town Art Fair (2017, 2018, 2020), and in shows in Mauritius and Hong Kong. In 2019 he completed a residency with the South African Foundation for Contemporary Art and participated in a group show at Guns & Rain.

.The exhibition titled MEETING Places opens in Rosedank on Saturday, April 10, 2021, at Oxford Parks, 199 Oxford Rd, 11am-2pm. The group exhibition wil close on May 10, 2021.

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